Games entailing buses, trains, and farming have been big business for a while now, and I totally get the appeal. They represent an appeal to our inner child. A way to relive the joys of toy cars and those rugs that had pictures of roads on them. A warm comfort blanket, where our only worries are steering large vehicles around narrow corners, rather than the intrusive drudgery of our adult lives.
These games transport us to a mental place where we had less to worry about, and all the time in the world. We trundle along, transporting people or collecting crops, dulling our minds to the horrors of daily life. Or at least they do when they’re done right.
When done wrong, they can be ugly, frustrating, and annoying. Bus Driver Simulator Countryside is, unfortunately, a perfect example of this.
The main thing it gets wrong is the buses. That’s a pretty big part of a bus driving simulator, although I’m sympathetic to the problems that the developers faced. For a start, the Nintendo Switch controller simply doesn’t have enough buttons for this kind of thing, which means that controls like opening the bus door are hidden behind more button presses than they should be.
There’s also had to be some pretty stark visual cutbacks. The most distracting of these is that your side mirrors and rear-view mirror render their footage at a single-digit frame rate, which makes seeing everything on the road far more difficult than it needs to be. It also looks utterly ridiculous.
We’re less sympathetic about the handling. It just feels wrong. Buses are big, weighty things, and controlling them should feel heavy and slow. Here, they feel light and skiddy. The smallest touch of the control stick can send them careening across the road, into the back of a police car. A police car that will not react at all as you fly into it.
It’s rare for me to say, but the experience just doesn’t fit the Switch. To immerse myself in this kind of thing, I want to be sat down on a chair, with a console of controls (or preferably a driving wheel). If you really feel the need to play a simulator of this ilk, the PC is clearly the platform to play it on.
There are positives, though. You can get into a nice flow, going to a stop, engaging the brakes, opening the doors, picking up passengers, closing the doors, disengaging the brakes, and going to the next stop, all whilst blasting out public domain tunes and annoying your passengers with the radio.
We also like the idea of the campaign, completing routes and building up a pot of cash to buy equipment for your bus (curtains!) or better and better busses.
Unfortunately, Bus Driver Simulator Countryside kills its own enjoyment by the sheer stupidity of the whole thing. The developers have clearly realised that the buses handle so appallingly that it would quickly get frustrating to punish the player too harshly for running someone over or hitting another car or driving off-road, so the fines for these things are pathetically small compared to the fares you get.
The problem is, it just makes everything feel so trivial and pointless. In our first run around the city, we collided with four people and still made a hundred-dollar profit. Not even Stagecoach could get away with that.
The other problem with Bus Driver Simulator Countryside is the name. Countryside. When I think of the word countryside, I think of fields and narrow lanes and cattle and sunshine. Bus Driver Simulator Countryside is set in the Russian town of Murom. Which, based on this evidence, is a bleak place with a dual carriageway running through it.
There’s a town centre with ugly, generic office buildings, and some generic shacks as you leave town. It looks like a scouting location for a new horror film. We’re sure the real place is lovely, but in this game the brutal surroundings of Murom destroy any hope you might have for a relaxing, comfort blanket experience.
I really wanted to love Bus Driver Simulator Countryside, but it offers so few pleasures. The driving is irritating, and its setting is soulless. There’s a tiny amount of mirth to be wrung out of the colourful array of characters that board your bus, but they’re not wacky enough to make you actually smile and they repeat so often that the mirth quickly fades.
Bus Driver Simulator Countryside is out now on Switch for £13.49. Published by Ultimate Games.